Signatures brings together representative sample of work from one hundred modern Indian poets from twenty languages. The poets include Jibanananda Das, Budhadev Bose, Bishnu Dey, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Gopalakrishna Adiga, Chandrasekhara Kambar, Akhtar-Ul-Iman, Ali Sardarjafri, Amrita Pritam, Harbhajan Singh, B.S. Mardhekar, Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Ayyappa Paniker, Sri Sri, Ka, Naa. Subramanian, Sitakant Mahapatra, Ramakanta Rath, G.M. Muktibodh, Ajneya,Kedar Nath Singh, Kunwar Narain, Raghuvir Sahay, A.K. Ramanujam, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mahapatra, Sitanshu Yashaschandra, G.M. Sheikh, Keki Daruwallah, Navakanta Barua, Nilmoni Phookan, Sachi Raut Ray, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Namdeo Dhasal And Vinda Karandikar among others. An ideal textbook for students of modern Indian poetry, an authentic reference work for scholars of comparative literature and an excellent read for the love of poetry.
K. Satchidanandand who has edited this volume is a well-known modern Malayalam poet, translator and critic with over 30 volumes of original work and over 15 volumes of poetry in translation to his credit. His work has been extensively translated into English, Russian, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian besides all major Indian languages. Summe Rain, a collection of his poems in English translation was published in 1995. He has represented Indian poetry at several international festivals, edited many anthologies including Gestures, an anthology of South Asian Poetry and won several awards for poetry, criticism and translation. At present he is the secretary of Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.
Signatures is an anthology of about 400 poems by one hundred modern poets writing in twenty Indian languages including English. Our languages are so rich and diverse in their poetic output that it is admittedly impossible to represent every trend, of theme and form, in a single-volume anthology like this. What one can utmost aspire to do is to reflect this range and variety through a cross-section of genuinely modern Indian poetry produced over the last five or six decades. It has not been possible to include all reputed poets of all Indian languages here though I have made sure that the poets included here have all won critical acclaim as well as readers’ love and admiration in the languages they write in. I have deliberately avoided calling this an ‘Anthology of contemporary Indian poetry’; such a qualification would call for the inclusion of at least about five hundred outstanding established poets writing in Indian languages. This is, perhaps like all such collections, primarily a personal anthology though I would certainly have included more poems by these poets, and more poets but for constraints of space. I would love, given a chance, to make amends by preparing a more elaborate multi-volume anthology or a series of language-wise anthologies later.
Twenty five years of my constant reading of Indian poetry in the languages I know and in translation in those languages, besides my frequent interaction with contemporary poets, through national poets’ meets, translation workshops, personal meetings, correspondence and editorial work, have gone into the making of this anthology though the actual work may have taken much less time. I must have gone through literally thousands of pages of poems and translations and perused periodicals, individual collections and anthologies of every kind to arrive first at a bigger collection of about three thousand pages of Xeroxed material and then at this selection that I went on revising, adding and removing poets and poems until it was time to hand it over to the publisher and until I felt it had achieved some son of a representational balance in terms of trends, if not of poets and languages. The publisher had given me full freedom in selection provided it did not exceed a certain number of pages and featured at least one poet each from all the constitutionally recognized languages of India. Within these limits, I hope I have been able to capture the spirit and the variety of modern Indian poetry right from its first pioneers like Jibanananda Das, G.M. Muktibodh, Sachi Rout Roy, Akhtar-ul-Iman, Harbhajan Singh, Ka. Naa. Subramaniam, AyyappaPaniker, Sri Sri, Gopalakrishna Adiga, Navakanta Barua, Narain Shyam, Ravji Patel and Dma Nath Nadim to its talented younger contemporary practitioners like Joy Goswami, Balachandran Chullikkad, H.S. Shivaprakash, Gagan Gill, Pravasini Mahakud and Nilim Kumar. The first poet anthologized here was born in 1899, almost along with the present century, and the last in 1962, being still in his 30s. The poets here together suggest, if not reflect, the evolution of modern Indian poetic sensibility especially over the last half-century. The themes taken up by the poets range from nature, love and death to caste, class and gender oppression. The passage from Modernism to post-Modernism here is as hard to detect and define as was the earlier passage from Romanticism to Modernism; however, an attempt at conceptualizing the issue has been made in the introduction that follows.
In the case of translations a sincere attempt has been made to choose the best from the available ones. Yet the fact remains that Indian language poetries are yet to find their master-translators, notwithstanding the brilliant attempts made by A.K. Ramanujan, Dilip Chitre, Arvind K. Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Baidar Bakht, and more recently by Vinay Dharwadker, Eunice D’ Souza, Ranjit Hoskote and others. Of course one should not forget the inherent difficulties involved in producing faithful echoes of Indian language poems in English which has a different ethos, culture, music, syntax, tradition and world of associations. My experience in inter-language translations has revealed to me the significance of language kinship in relation to semiotic and stylistic transfer. It is easier to retain the nuances of sound, sense and emotion of a Malayalam poem in Tamil or Kannada than in Hindi or Punjabi; yet even a 1-lindi version of it is certain to be a closer approximation to the original than one in English, French or Spanish. Certain poems have also an inbuilt quality of translatability in them; this depends on the dominance of the universal element of theme feeling and image in them over the more regional and even pan Indian elements. Still I hold that poetry is what is lost in translation is but a truism. The poem that loses nothing in translation and loses everything in translation must alike be bad since the former lacks the essential local element that makes it a verbal experience in a specific language and the latter the universal element that binds it to the totality 300 translations in the anthology, I dare to believe retain at least a memory of the original now being recreated in the context of another language and culture. This anthology is primarily meant for the Indian reader curious about his/her poetic neighborhoods and the whole milieu with its logic of semblances and differences. The editor and the publisher have reasons to be pleased if the effort gives the reader at least a foretaste of modern Indian poetry so as to provoke his/her desire to have more and to know more.
I am grateful to the national book trust for having forced me to take a second look at modern Indian poetry reinforcing some of my earlier impressions and compelling me to revise others. I also thank the poets the translators and the publisher of the books and periodicals from which these poems and translations have been for having given us permission to reproduce them here. The editor and the publisher would like to hear form those who could not be contacted for non availability of details or addresses.
The warm response the first edition of Signatures received from the lovers of poetry all over India has belied the oft repeated contention that books of poetry have few takers in our times. Its copies were sold out within months and this slightly delayed revised edition is a response to continuous demands from the readers who failed to get hold to copies of the first edition. Two poets have been replaced in this edition seven poems have been substituted by recent works by the poets and twenty two new poems have been added from new anthologies released during the interval between the two edition. No doubt a lot of new talents have also come up in the meantime but representing them would require another anthology exclusively devoted to the generation born in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century. I than the readers whose enthusiasm has made this new edition possible and the national book Trust India that readily responded to poetry’s call.
The trauma of the modern experience—of finding ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world, and at the same time threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are and thus pours us into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish— had hit the Indian psyche rather late. Its penetration into poetry was gradual and rather timid. The first symptoms of a ‘High Modernist’ sensibility had appeared in the poetry of Jibanananda Das around 1930 and of Bal Sitaram Mardhekar around 1940; however only around 1960 did it seep into all the major languages of India and attain self- consciousness promoting cool conceptualization in some languages and hot polemical battles with the guardians of orthodox sensibility—in its romantic, neo-classicist or progressive incarnations—in others. The tensions bred by colonial education, the transformation of both Gandhism and Marxism, once ideologies of resistance, into formal establishments in the fifties, the loss of faith in every collective ideology including religion, scepticism about the very idea of progress in the background of a half-hearted industrialization that promoted economic inequality, impoverished rural life and gave rise to urban infernos with their faceless crowds, the growing disenchantment with the new polity and the erosion of values especially in the upper echelons of society, combined with the startling discoveries about the human unconscious, the novel perceptions of space and time and a new awareness of the formal experiments in literature across the continents nourished by the paper-back revolution and the increased import of books together compelled the most sensitive of Indian poets to mould new idioms that would best articulate the continuing complexification of experience. This search for alternative styles of thought, image and expression—a whole new semiotics and even poetics—was neither simultaneous nor uniform in all the languages of India: however by 1960 they had all produced texts that desperately tried to capture the multilayered ness of modern Indian life with its uneasy co-existence of different time-worlds, of the rational and the spiritual, of the real and the surreal, in their startling images, syncopated rhythms, employment of novel patterns of lines and stanzas, unexpected leaps of thought, transgressions of approved norms of poetic decency and propriety, odd combinatorial plays involving folk and classical, indigenous and exotic elements, and remapping of Indian mythology in the fresh contexts of society and language. The polyphonic and often polyglot plurality of the modernist Indian text reflects the poets’ attempt to express the new cultural ferment that far exceeded the formal resources of the prevailing modes. It is often marked by the tensions of organizing into a poetic unity the disparate levels of modern Indian experience. This as true of Gopalakrishna Adiga’s Bhoomigeete or Aappa Paniker’s Kuruksherram, as of Muktibodh’s Andhere Mein and Sitanshu Yashaschandra’s Magan poems.
It is by no means accidental that this anthology begins with Jibanananda Das, for, Modernism in Indian poetry in the initial years at least, was a revolt against what the editors of Vibbava, an anthology of modern Indian writing, call the ‘Tagore Syndrome’ that symbolized the patriarchal canon in all Indian literatures explained thus by them:
In terms of both style and ideology, one can notice a surprising similarity among the father-figures of different Indian literatures. Cultural nationalism, romantic love, nature, mysticism, metaphysical leanings and an ideal of nation-building formed the common ethos of the Tagore Syndrome and the concoction they produced had become a little too sweet and stale. The dominant form in poetry was the lyric and the fiction writer’s creed was realism. When this type of patriarchal authority became too much to bear, the new generation had to free itself from the clutches of what it thought was an overbearing literary culture. It is in this act of defiance, this urge to commit patricide, if need be, that we see the beginning of the new movement. (‘Tagorean Father and the Patricidal Urge’, Introduction to Vibhava, ed. U.R. Anantha Murthy, Ramachandra Sharma, D.R. Nagaraj, Bangalore, 1992, pp. 1-2)
This argument is corroborated in the context of modern Bengali poetry by Ron. K. Banerjee in the preface to his anthology Poetry from Bengal where he defines the modern Bengali poet as one ‘who set out to change the conventions governing Bengali literature and the worldview it embodied’ and interrogated the traditional values from the matrix of ‘a new urban sensibility of a developing techno. logical age with an attendant awareness of alienation, of persistent poverty as an economic fact.., of dehumanization’. Tagore’s poetry, he says, does not engage this new sensibility although he was acutely aware of the contemporary scene. This is also true of Nazrul Islam’s ‘incandescent lyrics’ and Satyendranath Dutta’s ‘brilliant rhythmic’ arabesques. He further observes:
Of course in Tagore’s poetry—with motz et son in intimate unity, with new cadences and rhythms, new tonalities echoing common speech—the millennial tradition finds a triumphant re-birth. Yet, it was a precarious triumph. Modern life demanded new forms, new language, freer rhythms. (Preface to Poetry from Ben• gal, ed. Ron. K. Banerjee, London, 1989, p. xvi)
Dilip Chitre also has made similar observations about what he calls a shattering of the gestalt during the Second World War in Mar-and Pound discovering Chinese poetry, B.S. Mardhekar rediscovered the poetry of Tukaram and Ramdas in the new context.
The agony of Tukaram in search of God and the hard hitting moral didactic of Ramdas were something which could assure a new poignancy in the post-war situation which had led to a crisis in his individual way of feeling. (Introduction to An Anthology of Marathi Poetry, ed. Dilip Chitre, Pune, 1967) Mardhekar returned to this classical tradition in order to interrogate his immediate predecessors just as the British Romantics discovered Milton and Spencer in order to fight the new-classicists. However, while the saint poets did violence to reason through emotion, his ingrained sophistry and classicism were opposed to the Dionysiac agony and ecstasy of Tukaram. Chitre has shown how Mardhekar u-as torn between style and functional language in his attempt to still an anarchy of the mind in a formal harmony. Arun Kolatkar’s Maraihi poems also show the impact of the work of saint poets in their texture, but his automatic, surrealistic method gives new functions to the traditional devices. Bhalchandra Nemade similarly discovers an affinity of sensibility in the literature of the monastic Mahanubhav cult. At the same time, these poets were also influenced by poets from other cultures, from French surrealists to Russian futurists. This kind of a civilizational dialogue—whose terms were often set by modern west-oriented reading and scholarship—could be found in most of the modernists, and is especially visible in the first-generation modernisers. It was not mere transplantation, however, nor did it produce a culture of pastiche’ in poetry, as it perhaps did in fiction, since the art of the poet in India has a much longer tradition and deeper roots in the culture of the land. The outside influences were chiefly transformative in nature, as they were nativised by the individual genius of the writers, the geniuses of the languages they wrote in, and the contingencies of the specific cultural and literary conjunctures obtaining in different language-zones. Little magazines, translations and anthologies played a crucial role in integrating these influences into their native sensibility and idiom.
In one sense, the modernism of the initial phase sprang from the failure of the Progressivists in comprehending the problematic nature of the relation between the writer and his/her audience in modern society. They did try to resolve the conflict between the hegemonic and the subaltern elements in the Indian languages where they made their presence felt; but they often did not recognize the need for devising new aesthetic strategies to create new modes of perception and expression. Even in languages like Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi and Urdu most influenced by the Progressivist ideology the ‘progress’ was chiefly confined to the theme; hence, with a few exceptions like Faiz in Urdu they failed to carry conviction as aesthetic revolutionaries. The modernists refused to accept the conservative sensibility of the Progressivists who were close to the Romantics in style as well as their simplistic understanding of human life and their optimism that seemed facile before the complex contradictions of development, while also fighting the clichés of a sentimental Romanticism. Poetry came to be seen more and more as a revolt against the oppressive sense of futility and the alienation of the individual that haunt the modern marl. Ajneya, a pioneer of early modernism in Hindi declared that not only the life-style, but life itself had changed. ‘Now life is neither urban nor rural; its very structure has been lost.
There is nothing that unites it’. (Trishanku: Ajneya, Bikaneer, 1945, p. 20-21) Poets like Ajneya were not disturbed by the retreat of poetry into an elite exercise; on the other hand they glorified its status as an aesthetic product for minority consumption. Poetry’s real place, they thought, was away from the dockyards and market places. The modernists considered poetry a decanter discourse; the subject that spoke through their poetry was entirely elusive as they put on a variety of masks; angry, clownish, meditative, nihilistic, Bohemian, narcissistic, self-negating. The poems of Ayyappa Paniker in Malayalam perhaps best exemplify this break, down of the ego.
The reception accorded to the poetry of the early modernists is by now part of India’s literary histories. The romantic contemporaries of these poets refused to acknowledge its status as poetry: the Progressives found it too morbid, cynical, anarchic and claustrophobic to serve any useful social function. The tradition-bound readership found its angst and alienation entirely derivative and its verbal strategies obscure, elitist, imitative, unaesthetic and even shocking. However this poetry not only won over a good part of the readership that had initially tried to resist it but created a new readership primarily of educated urban middle classes who could easily identify with its structure of feelings. The academia found in it a new role as the privileged decoder of its semiotic mysteries and the exponents of its new hermeneutics. No one, not even its detractors could deny its daring innovativeness and its dark emotive force: everyone knew, like Eliot’s Magi that there was a new birth, though they were unsure of its messianic significance.
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